Saturday, August 27, 2016

Top 10 Reasons the 1980s Were the Worst Decade of the 20th Century

I grew up in the 1980s. Too bad the Republicans who are around my age still haven't grown up. Even though people who grew up in the 1960s are now old and dealing with the consequences thereof, I still envy them.

As Bill Maher put it, "Your Kennedy was Reagan. Our Kennedy was Kennedy."

And the comparisons don't get better:

* Our Beatles were Van Halen. Their Beatles were the Beatles.
* Our Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds. Their Mantle and Mays were Mantle and Mays.
* Our Ford Mustang was the Pontiac Trans Am -- and not the Knight Rider version, either. Their Mustang was the Mustang.
* And as dumb as he was, Maxwell Smart will always be cooler than Sam Malone. After all, Agent 86 got Barbara Feldon. Mayday got Kirstie Alley -- you know what she was like then, well, look what happened to her after.

As goofy, as ridiculous, and as depressing as the 1970s were, they were still better than the 1980s.

Compare 1970s G.I. Joe with 1980s G.I. Joe. Seventies Joe was Indiana Jones with a beard, represented by a 12-inch-tall action figure with a Kung Fu Grip. You knew he was a real American hero. Nobody had to tell you that he was.
Eighties Joe was a bunch of guys blowing shit up, represented by 4-inch action figures. They had to advertise themselves as "a real American hero."
The Marines on Iwo Jima, they ain't.

The only way this photo could be more Eighties is if they were wearing neon Spandex (and I'm not sure their uniforms aren't made of Spandex), and if they had big hair (which wouldn't fit under their hats/helmets). You can almost hear the loud, horrible theme song

And how many guys did it take to make the Eighties Joe team? Seventies Joe was the head of "the G.I. Joe Adventure Team," but, essentially, he was one man. He was MacGyver before Richard Dean Anderson was and Indiana Jones before Harrison Ford took that role.


I will put aside my usual baseball bias, and I won't say that baseball sucked in the 1980s, even though the Mets won a World Series, were better than the Yankees for a majority of the decade, and, despite actually having Major League Baseball's best record in the decade, the Yankees didn't win a World Series in it, and reached the postseason only twice, ending ignominiously both times. (They had 3 other close calls for the Playoffs.)

The Yankees aside, frankly, baseball was pretty good in the decade. So was basketball. So was hockey. And, competition-wise, the NFL might never have been better, although we are now seeing the poisoned fruit of that time: The first decade of really huge but fast players resulting in impacts that have left not merely a few, but many players with serious brain damage, resulting in terrible impairments in their 50s.

But the Eighties sucked. They were the worst decade of the 20th Century.

Top 10 Reasons the 1980s Were the Worst Decade of the 20th Century

1. Ronald Reagan. To paraphrase Robert Young's line from 1970s TV commercials, reminding us that he starred as Marcus Welby, M.D.: Ronald Reagan wasn't a great President, but he played one on TV.
Look at what his supporters claim his accomplishments were, and look at the truth. Take it from someone who was around then, and knows (me):

* "He turned the economy around." Bullshit. He brought inflation and interest rates back to earth. But he actually wrecked the economy.

When Reagan became President on January 20, 1981, unemployment was 7.2 percent. Not good, but not terrible. It was still around that for much of the year. Then, in August, he signed his tax cut into law. By January 1, 1982, it was 8.2 percent. By November 1982, it was 10.8 percent, the highest it's been since the Great Depression. Indeed, it didn't even get that high during the 2007-10 recession.

So, in early 1983, Reagan, who knew that he couldn't "save the world from Communism" if he didn't get re-elected, and couldn't get re-elected if he had an unemployment rate that approached the one Herbert Hoover ran with in 1932, did what George H.W. Bush later did in 1990, and what George W. Bush refused to do until 2008: He compromised with the Democratic leaders of Congress, and he raised taxes. That's right: Ronald Reagan raised taxes.

Result? By January 1, 1984, the unemployment rate had dropped below 8 percent. On November 6, 1984, the day Reagan stood for re-election, the rate was 7.2 percent -- the same as it was on November 4, 1980, when he won by saying the economy was bad. But Reagan was wrong, and the Democrats were right: Raising taxes worked.

And yet, unemployment still didn't drop below the rate he inherited until November 1985, the end of his 5th year. For as long as he was President, it never dropped below 5 percent, which is generally, if erroneously, thought of as "full employment."

Oh yeah: On October 19, 1987, the stock market crashed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 22 percent of its value. But there was no new recession (at least, not until the savings & loan scandal of 1989 and other causes led to the 1990-93 downturn), because the Federal Reserve Board stepped in. In other words, what really saved Reagan from becoming another Herbert Hoover was... the heavy hand of the federal government.

What else did Reagan do that his supporters love to claim that he did?

* "He won the Cold War." Bullshit. The Cold War was won by Lech Walesa -- who was something that Reagan hated: The leader of a labor union.

On June 12, 1987, Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate -- in front of a crowd half the size of the one JFK addressed at West Berlin's City Hall in 1963 -- and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" On January 20, 1989, Reagan left the Presidency, and the Berlin Wall still stood. On November 9, 1989, the East German government passed a law that rendered the Wall meaningless. And the only thing Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had to do with it is that he... did absolutely nothing to stop it.

Meanwhile, Reagan signed a trade deal with China. Red China. Reagan strengthened the world's largest Communist country.

What else did Reagan do that his supporters love to claim that he did?

* "He stood up to terrorists." Bullshit. Reagan gave Iran weapons in exchange for money and hostages. Then he used the profits to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. We called them "death squads" at the time, but we can also say they were terrorists. Then there was his veto of sanctions on the government of South Africa, whose apartheid policies were, in part, terroristic. Congress properly overrode that veto.

And then there was the fact that he sent American money and weapons to the anti-Communist rebels in Afghanistan. These were the guys who became al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Ronald Reagan made Osama bin Laden, as we came to know him, possible.

In other words, if someone else had been President from 1981 to 1988, the Berlin Wall would still have fallen, but the World Trade Center would not have fallen.

And I haven't even gotten to the criminal charges. Just from Iran-Contra, Reagan's Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and 2 National Security Advisors, Bud McFarlane and John Poindexter, were convicted. Secretary of the Interior James Watt, whose paranoia about religion and drugs marked a bridge between the old John Birch Society and the current Tea Party, was convicted. His White House Chief of Staff Michael Deaver and his Press Secretary Lyn Nofziger were convicted. His Attorney General Edwin Meese resigned as part a deal to avoid prosecution.

Ronald Reagan was a disgraceful President.

I mentioned that Bill Maher had compared Reagan with John F. Kennedy. This was on the 50th Anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, November 22, 2013. He even compared the eras, in temperament and fashion as well as in politics:

Can we at least agree that Kennedy was cooler?... Our liberal hero was a smart sexy war hero who said he wanted to go to the Moon! Yours was an old fuddy-duddy who tried to rock denim. Our guy was Don Draper. Yours was Rooster Cogburn...

When they named an airport after Kennedy, flying was sexy and fun... When they named an airport after Reagan, it was purgatory with a food court...

The one reason we looked uglier in the '80's, is because we were uglier. It was when the Baby Boomers, the generation that was supposed to be different, just gave up and sold out completely. Kennedy's time was the time of "Ask not what your country can do for you." Reagan's was the time of "Greed is good."

JFK was far from perfect, but he was a true wit and a sex machine, and he knew how to wear a pair of shades. Reagan was an amiable square in a cowboy hat who had sex with a woman he called "Mommy."
Kennedy was James Bond. Reagan was Matlock. Love him or hate him, we win. Republicans can call Reagan their Kennedy all they want, but it's like calling Miller High Life "the champagne of beers." It's why calling someone your Kennedy will never really cut it, because our Kennedy... is Kennedy.
Yeah, about "Greed is good"...

2. Greed. The Reagan Revolution, a "reverse Robin Hood" movement that (to borrow Al Gore's phrase) taxed the many to enrich the few, sure inspired greed. What Michael Douglas' character Gordon Gekko said in the 1987 film Wall Street -- filmed before the crash of that October, but released after it, making it the Quiet American or the China Syndrome of the decade -- was this:

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms: Greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A. Thank you very much.
He's a liberal in real life.
I still hate him for marrying Catherine Zeta-Jones.

It was based on something that Ivan Boesky, the Wall Street trader who ended up caught in the decade's insider trading scandal, said in a commencement address at, of all places, the University of California's legendarily liberal main campus in Berkeley in 1986: "I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself... Seek wealth. It's all right." He got a big cheer from those snotnosed schmucks.

Since Reagan was elected Governor of California in 1966, in no small part due to the "Free Speech Movement" at Berkeley of the preceding 2 years, and the antiwar movement that had developed on the campus at the same time, the graduates, some of them surely the kids of Sixties Berkeley grads, cheering Boesky's public lauding of greed may have been Reagan's greatest triumph, at least on a personal basis.

The Eighties were the decade that made celebrities out of fictional rich bastards Gekko, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman on Dallas) and Blake Carrington (John Forsythe on Dynasty); and real ones like Boesky, "junk bond" trader Michael Milken, and an up-and-coming real estate developer named Donald Trump. As if you needed another reason to hate this evil decade.

The Eighties saw the rise of Young Urban Professionals, or YUPs, or Yuppies. Maher was right: The Baby Boomers decided, "Hey, idealism isn't working, so let's cut the lefty crap and start making big money." With their clothes that mimicked, but didn't actually match, the styles of the rich people they thought were classy (but really weren't).

And when you do make that money, you move out to the suburbs, to Westbury or Greenwich, Armonk or Saddle River. Screw the safe Volvos: Buy a BMW (or "Beemer"), and buy a bumper sticker that sums up your driving philosophy: "As a matter of fact, I do own the whole damn road."
Did you think I was joking? These things actually existed.

And when the time comes that you've got enough money to spend on kids, and you're ready to toss aside The Pill, send your little brats to the best private school in the county, rather than the suburban public school that was good enough for you.

3. MTV. There were music videos before MTV debuted on August 1, 1981. Sometimes, they were called "promotional films." Before that, in the 1940s, they were called "soundies," and would be shown with movie theaters' newsreels or in jukeboxes containing small film projectors.

But MTV, whether knowingly or not, promoted Marshall McLuhan's idea that "The medium is the message." Suddenly, the visual meant more than anything else. Never mind whether the lyrics, the voices, or the playing of the instruments sounded good: Did the performance look good? (Most of the time, my answer was, "Not to me, but it sure did to a bunch of people with no taste.")

Oddly, some already-established performers -- including David Bowie, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen -- didn't need videos to become famous and respected, yet ended up making great videos. Even the sappiest of disco performers didn't need videos: They just needed to go on American Bandstand, The Midnight Special, Soul Train or Dance Fever, and do their stuff.

Disco sucked, and polluted the airwaves in the Seventies, but it was better than the synthesizer-driven, wouldn't-be-on-the-radio-if-not-for-MTV crap of the Eighties. Duran Duran was crap, but teenage girls loved the way they looked, and so they became huge.
If you'd never heard of these guys, and had to guess how they sounded,
your guess might well be, "Like a bunch of twats." And you would be right.

If Bruce Springsteen looked like Jon Bon Jovi, he would have been as big as Elvis Presley; if Bon Jovi looked like Springsteen, we'd have never heard of him. The distance between them is a lot more than the 14 miles of U.S. Route 9 between Springsteen's Freehold and Bon Jovi's Sayreville.

Or, to put it another way: Susan Boyle is 3 years younger than Madonna. If Susan looked like Madonna, she might have become famous at the same time; but if Madonna looked like Susan, she would never have become famous.

Think about it. Doris Day had a hit record in 1942, when she was 20. Teresa Brewer had a hit record in 1950, at 19. Connie Francis had a hit record in 1958, at 19. Lesley Gore had a hit record in 1963, at 16. All of these women, at those respective times, were attractive, but they didn't need to play off that, because they had talent. Madonna's 1st hit came in 1982, when she was 24. Why not sooner? Was it because she was not attractive enough? No, it was because MTV allowed her to overcome her comparatively lower level of singing and writing talent.
She could stare, she could dance, she could writhe.
But she couldn't sing or write a song worth a damn.
But it was the Eighties, so no one cared.

4. Synth-Pop. Even 1960s and '70s music icons got watered down. Neil Young refused to get beaten down by it. So did Bruce and Billy. Elton managed to avoid it (mostly). But Paul McCartney's descent into schmaltz was completed. Aretha Franklin recorded a lot of songs that were hardly worthy of her.

Even the biggest musical star of the decade, 1970s holdover Michael Jackson, I'm sorry, I realize that this will be blasphemy to some of you, but his best work was already behind him. Thriller (released on November 30, 1982) was not as good as Off the Wall (1979) or his early Jackson 5 material (1969-71). Not to mention that Pepsi commercial accident (January 27, 1984) has been postulated as the reason his life went downhill.

Far be it from me to speak ill of the recently dead, but I was never a Prince fan. Even if his in-your-face sex themes weren't too much for me, then or now, I just didn't like the sound of his music. And Madonna... Never mind the sexual themes, it was her music that was obscene. So much so that it was her 1987 chart-topper "Open Your Heart" that made me give up on current music in high school, and turn my FM radio dial from 100.3, New York Top 40 station Z100, to the next station over, 101.1, oldies station CBS-FM, and allowed me to rediscover past music.

Today, nearly 30 years later, CBS-FM is playing Eighties music. It's "oldies." Excuse me while I puke.

5. Hair Metal. A bunch of guys thought they could be as good as Led Zeppelin if they played high piercing guitars, screamed their vocals, bared their chests, wore Spandex tights, and used enough AquaNet to personally kill the ozone layer. Hint: Led Zep did not wear Spandex or use AquaNet. And they could actually play their instruments well.

Def Leppard. Motley Crue. Poison. Warrant. It seemed to get progressively worse and more ridiculous. This is what happens when ego and MTV combine to make the quality of the music irrelevant.

Thank God for Neil Young and his 1989 album Freedom. It didn't kill hair metal -- more often, Nirvana is given that credit -- but Neil Young dealt it a mortal blow. As somebody I saw online said of the lead single of that album, the mighty, anti-Republican, substantive opus "Rockin' In the Free World": "To me it was a signpost putting the death knell on a lousy decade of music IMO. End of 1989 couldn't come fast enough."

6. Hair and Clothes. Bill Maher again: "Was there ever a more garish decade than the Eighties? Neon clothing, big hair, spandex, blazers with shoulderpads... for men?" 

Don't take my word for it, or Maher's. We started out with a natural extension of the '70s, with the Magnum, P.I. look of Tom Selleck.
So far, not particularly offensive.

But then came the "wifebeater" look, which did more to damage the perception of Italian-Americans than 100 Mob movies could have done.
Yo, Sly.

Tracksuits are regular walking-around wear. This was a preferred fashion of both middle-class jerks in America and soccer hooligans in England.
Note the open shirt and the jewelry of the guy on the right.
If Richard Kline had left the cast of Three's Company,
this guy could have been slotted right in to play Kline's role,
skeezy used-car salesman Larry Dallas, with little difference.

Then came the Yuppie look.
Shut up, Wesley. You too, Samwise.

Then came the Miami Vice look. Pastels. "No earth tones."
"Baby, you're goin' to prison for 20 years.
But if you rat out your boyfriend and suck my cock,
I'll see that you get a suspended sentence."

Maher admitted it himself: "I tried to find a good picture of myself in the Eighties. It doesn't exist!"
This was the best one I could find.
Note the date: August 31, 1982.

Women's fashion was no better. Don't wear this unless you can pull off the Joan Collins Dynasty attitude. Being as hot as she was (and she was already 48 when she started on that show) won't help you unless you can match her Alexisness. (Hint: You can't.)
"I could ask, 'Whatta you lookin' at?' like an Italian girl.
I don't have to. I know what you're looking at, darling."

It's okay to like Cyndi Lauper's music. But her clothes, oy vey.
By mid-1984, she was not so unusual.

Then came the Yup-ettes. Yes, that big thing (bigger than the shoulder pads) is the late 1980s version of a mobile phone.
The hair doesn't help.

Don't even get me started on the hair. The "A Flock of Seagulls" hairstyle recently made a comeback: Donald Trump may be the only guy still famous in the 2010s whose hair looked better in the 1980s.
Pictured: Not Donald Trump.

Seriously. Here's Hillary Clinton with her husband in 1986.
The occasion was the National Governors' Conference at the White House, and Bill was about to be elected Governor of Arkansas for the 3rd time. And, by Hillary's standards before she became First Lady, this was a good look. It had to be: It was a formal occasion.

But here's Donald Trump and his wife in 1986.
That's Ivana. Melania would have been 16 at the time.

See? Today, Hillary looks a lot better than she did then -- and Donald should have stuck with his '80s look. In '86, he actually looked like the man he now claims to be: A man competent enough to fix big problems, and successful enough to back up his claims. Now, he just looks like... a guy having his midlife crisis at age 70.

7. Cars. As I said in my piece "Top 10 Myths About the 1950s," when you think of 1950s cars, you think of big bastard things with tailfins. When you think of 1960s cars, you think of sporty little numbers. When you think of cars in the late 1960s or the early 1970s, you think of larger vee-hicles, "muscle cars."

But in 1970, AMC (American Motors Corporation) began producing the flat-ended Gremlin. In 1971, Ford began producing the Pinto, with its built-in explodiness. In 1972, Honda began producing the Civic. In 1974, America met the Toyota Corolla. In 1975, AMC introduced a a dinky little thing even dinkier than the Gremlin, the round-ended Pacer. In 1976, Chevrolet introduced the Chevette. You knew a TV game show was lame if the "A new car!!!!" it awarded was a Chevy Chevette.

But the cars of the 1980s were worse. Was there a more Eighties car than the IROC-Z edition of the Chevrolet Camaro?
Stick a hair metal singer wearing a Reagan campaign button in there,
and it might be the most Eighties picture ever.

Actually, there may have been: The Yuppiemobile itself, the BMW 325i.
Aside from when the Dodgers and Giants were moved,
IROC vs. Beemer may have been the original
"East Coast vs. West Coast feud."

Of course, in Yuppie couples, his car was the Beemer, because male ego. Hers, since she might have had to take the rugrats somewhere, was the pinnacle of automotive safety, the Volvo.
Ford's Escort and Taurus weren't so bad. And the introduction of minivans helped. But the most fondly-remembered car of the decade is the 1981 DMC-12. That's "DeLorean Motor Corporation." And, let's face it, the DeLorean may have been the 2nd-biggest marketing bust of the decade, behind New Coke. (Unless you're one of these people who thinks New Coke was designed to make people nostalgic for Classic Coke and turn away from Pepsi, for whom the Eighties were a golden decade.)

Hell, I didn't even need a caption for this one. It was provided for me. I ask you: Would anybody now think of the DeLorean as anything but laughable if it wasn't for its being turned into a time machine in Back to the Future?
Speaking of movies...

8. Movie Heroes. Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future films. Tom Cruise as Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Top Gun. Clint Eastwood as Inspector Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry films (admittedly, a holdover from the '70s). Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (admittedly, a character set in the 1930s). Det. John McClane in the Die Hard films.

Sylvester Stallone as both Rocky Balboa (admittedly, a holdover from the '70s) and John Rambo (though his struggle is based in the '60s, he's an '80s character). Mel Gibson as both Max Rockatansky in the Mad Max films and Sgt. Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon films. Chuck Norris in pretty much every movie he was in. Arnold Schwarzenegger in pretty much every movie he was in (even if his Terminator turned into a hero, or at least a protector, in the '90s).
"I'll be back. This shit won't."

These guys range from, at best, well-meaning bumblers (Marty and Doc, Rocky) to anti-heroes who specialize in, as I put it in my mention of 1980s G.I. Joe, blowing shit up.
"Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!"

And there was a difference: The "anti-heroes" of the '70s, guys played by Paul Newman, James Caan, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Roundtree as John Shaft (just so you know it wasn't all white guys), Pam Grier as Coffy and Foxy Brown (just so you know it wasn't all guys), Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes in Chinatown and Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Eastwood as Dirty Harry, you saw them advertised as rebels, as imperfect guys who you could still root for.

But in the '80s? It was "Let Reagan be Reagan," and "Let Harry be Dirty." Harry, Rambo, Riggs, McClane, Ahnold and the rest could blow shit up and have crazy car chases, causing all kinds of damage that really wasn't necessary; and kill indiscriminately, including guys who were mere henchmen and didn't really deserve to die.

And movie audiences loved it. It was a "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out" idea.
He was no longer interested in whether you felt lucky.
He was giving you a direct order, punk:
"Go ahead. Make my day."

Ironically, the James Bond movies moved away from this. With Roger Moore, the gadgets and plots got sillier after his best film, The Spy Who Loved Me, in 1977: Moonraker in 1979, For Your Eyes Only was a step back toward more realistic stuff in 1981, then came Octopussy in 1983 and A View to a Kill in 1985. But then he was replaced by Timothy Dalton, and the tide was turned with The Living Daylights in 1987 and Licence to Kill in 1989.

But Bond was an anomaly. Even the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve got progressively louder, cheesier, and more destructive -- the Eighties "triple threat." And, of course, with a nod to Frank Miller's comic books, when the Tim Burton version of Batman premiered in 1989, it was obvious that Adam West's 1960s idea of the Caped Crusader -- and the Super Friends cartoon version as a takeoff on it, with Olan Soule voicing Batman and Casey Kasem voicing Robin -- was history.

The '60s were over, and no one wanted a lesson in morality. The '70s were over, and no one wanted "complicated" heroes. We wanted heroes, the kind of guys who were willing to kill motherfuckers and blow shit up for America and Jesus. We wanted the kind of guys who would have made John Wayne jump out of his coffin, raise his fist in the air, and yell, "Fuck, yeah!"

I can think of no bigger difference between '70s pop culture and '80s pop culture than these 2 quotes, from the same actor, who was also the screenwriter both times (albeit with help from, yes, James Cameron the 2nd time):

* In 1976, playing Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone tells his girlfriend Adrian Pennino, played by Talia Shire, "It really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings, and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know, for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood."

And he does go the distance. And he loses only by a split decision. And he wins the rematch. In the 1970s, it was okay to say, "If, at first, you don't succeed, try, try again."

* In 1985, Sly, playing John Rambo, asked his former commanding officer, Sam Trautman, played by Richard Crenna, "Do we get to win this time?" As it turned out, the answer was, "No, but I'm gonna turn it into a yes."

Even comedy reflected this. The days of the fun, rebellious comedy of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Freddie Prinze were over. By the end of the '80s, the 2 leading standup comics in America were both loud, profane and misogynistic: Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay.
His real name is Andrew Clay Silverstein.
He was the kind of Brooklyn Jewish (or Italian) kid
the Beastie Boys were mocking in that song,
but people accepted the joke as reality.

Comedian Artie Lange said that "political correctness" ended (or, at least, long interrupted) the comedy careers of Clay and Eddie Murphy. Kinison died in 1992 -- ironically, in a crash caused by a drunk driver after he had gotten sober himself -- and Lange added that he "died at just the right time, 'cause no one was going to tolerate what he was saying anymore, either."
I'm not so sure: Lange -- born at the same hospital I was, St. Barnabas in Livingston, New Jersey, just 2 years earlier, and raised in nearby Union in the '70s and '80s while I was being raised 25 miles away in East Brunswick, still within the New York media market -- became famous as a result of appearing on The Howard Stern Show, and Stern, the king of the politically incorrect slimeballs, got more popular than ever in the mid-1990s.

With all this shit going on -- bad economics, bad social policy, bad foreign policy, bad music, bad cars, bad clothes, bad hair, bad movies, bad comedy -- I'm not surprised that America's drug problem was worse than ever before:

9. Drugs. Say it the way Carlin, who knew whereof he spoke, said it on his 1972 album FM & AM: "Druuuuuuuugs!" This category sort-of ties into the last one, because the defining movie from the 1980s might well be the remake of Scarface.

What's that? You didn't know Scarface was a remake? I suppose that's part of the problem. Don't blame yourself if you didn't know. In the case of the ending, and only of the ending, the remake was an improvement:

* In 1932, Tony Camonte, an Italian-American hood played by Paul Muni (who was Jewish, not Italian) as an obvious copy of Al Capone (whose nickname was Scarface), sees his alcohol bootlegging and protection rackets collapse around him. Cornered by the cops, he takes the coward's way out: He begs them not to kill him, then makes a run for it, and is shot, dying underneath a neon sign he could once see from his apartment, inspiring him: A travel agency's ad saying, "THE WORLD IS YOURS."

* In 1983, Tony Montana, a Cuban ex-con played by Al Pacino (who is Italian, not Cuban), goes down fighting, attempting to defend his crumbling cocaine empire, before falling in front of a fountain with the same inscription.
Had he long blond hair doused with AquaNet,
and had the jacket been pastel with shoulder pads,
this might be the most '80s photo of all.

The 1980s was the decade when cocaine was turned into crack, and it became cheap for the first time. You no longer had to have gobs of money to get it. But it turned the urban crime problem from horrible to absolutely catastrophic. Huge chunks of cities became absolute no-go zones for fear of drug-induced violence. Unless you needed a fix. Then you didn't give a shit. Your chances of dying soon anyway were pretty good.
And it was a gateway to other drugs. Including heroin. By the mid-1990s, treatment programs, President Bill Clinton's crime bill, other anti-crime measures, and urban renewal would turn New York and many other cities around. But in the 1980s, it was not easy to take a walk anywhere in a city and not see at least one dirty needle.

Which is a segue into my last reason:

10. AIDS -- and How Mainstream America Reacted To It. At first, the disease first clinically recorded in 1981 was called "The 4H Disease" -- not because of anything to do with the agricultural organization 4-H, but because it seemed to be affecting homosexuals, heroin users, hemophiliacs and Haitians.

But the media began calling it "GRID": Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. By September 1982, when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publicly released the name "AIDS," for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (the virus causing it was later named "HIV" for Human Immunodeficiency Virus), it was already in the public consciousness as "gay cancer."

As if hateful people needed another reason to be bigoted toward gay men. (It didn't seem to affect lesbians at the time.) The jokes were cruel: "What do you call a gay in a wheelchair? 'Rolaids!'" Ministers such as Pat Robertson called AIDS "God's judgement on homosexuals."

Meanwhile, there were people trying to raise awareness of the disease, and raise money to fight it. The sufferers seemed prematurely aged, their hair going gray or falling out entirely. Since AIDS seemed to particularly allow lung disease, pneumonia and breathing difficulty was common, making the victims much weaker than they should have been. Activists were saying things like, "I'm tired of seeing 30-year-old men with canes!"

On July 25, 1985, actor Rock Hudson announced that he had AIDS. He died the following October 2. His image as a great actor and a great-looking guy was shattered: Now, he was just another gay man who got AIDS and died. (To this day, there are people who knew him who say they didn't know he was gay, and others who say they did, but kept his secret. But both groups agree that he was a terrific guy.) When Liberace died from the disease on February 4, 1987, the reaction was not one of surprise: His being gay was one of the worst-kept secrets in show business.
This front page shows how ignorant people were
about the issue at the time.

Once, gay men were laughed at, or, worse, viewed as moral degenerates. The gay rights movement that went from dormant to open after the Stonewall Riot of 1969, and expanded in the 1970s, suffered a major blow from "the AIDS crisis": Now, gay men, or anyone suspected of having AIDS, even incorrectly, were treated as pariahs, because people thought these people were spreading the disease. Most people weren't willing to accept, or simply didn't understand, that it was not a disease you could get unless you received tainted blood or tainted sexual contact.

Three people changed the perception of the disease. In 1985, a 13-year-old boy named Ryan White, who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion necessary due to his hemophilia, was denied the right to be readmitted to his Indiana public school after it was revealed that he had AIDS.

In 1988, he spoke before the President's Commission on the HIV Epidemic. Infamously, Reagan never even mentioned AIDS in public until the previous year, even though Hudson had been a Hollywood friend of his and Nancy's. Ryan died on April 8, 1990, only 18 years old.
In its November 1990 issue, Life magazine published a photo by Therese Frare of David Kirby, a gay rights activist in Ohio, shortly before his death on the preceding May 5, at age 32, surrounded by his grieving family. It became known as "the photo that changed the face of AIDS."
And then, on November 7, 1991, basketball superstar Earvin "Magic" Johnson announced he was retiring due to having contracted HIV. The argument that AIDS was "a gay disease" was shattered: Everyone knew Magic was straight. The only people who were saying, "Well, he has AIDS, so he must be a (slur word)" were just being ignorant. (He didn't have AIDS, either: He had HIV, which is nearly always a precursor to AIDS.)
I've said in the predecessor posts that what we perceive as these "decades" don't begin on January 1, (year ending in zero) and end on December 31, (year ending in nine). "The Eighties," effectively, began with Reagan's election on November 4, 1980, as things in 1980 like the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Olympic hockey win over the Soviets were, culturally, more 1970s events.

Since the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 hit so many of the Eighties "buttons" (noise, explosions, nationalism, killing nonwhite people), I say "The Eighties" didn't really end, and "The Nineties" didn't really begin, until November 7, 1991, when Magic made his announcement. Within days, Governor Clinton announced his campaign for President, and people began to realize that the Persian Gulf War hadn't ended the recession.

Magic would make comebacks for the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, the 1992 Olympics, and again briefly in the 1996 season. Someone wrote during the Olympics, during the fuss over the U.S. "Dream Team," that, "The world was reaching out to touch a man who is HIV-positive."

The day after the announcement, Magic appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show, and Arsenio told him that the disease was going to be beaten, "because we want you to live forever." Shortly thereafter, Magic appeared as member of the court of an Egyptian pharaoh played by Eddie Murphy, in the video for Michael Jackson's song "Remember the Time." It was a ridiculous video, but, hey, you only live once, right? Arsenio said, "I hope Magic lives a long time, so that, years from now, we can say, 'Hey, Magic: Remember the time?'"

In late 1999, Rick Reilly wrote in Sports Illustrated, "Joe DiMaggio is dead. Wilt Chamberlain is dead. Walter Payton is dead. Payne Stewart is dead. And Magic Johnson is alive." That year, DiMaggio had died at age 84 from lung cancer. Understandable. Chamberlain had died at 63. A shock, but most people didn't know he'd had heart trouble for some time. Payton had died at 45. Sad, but he had publicly mentioned that he had cancer, so it wasn't a surprise. Stewart had died at 42 in a plane crash. Shocking, but plane crashes do happen. It wasn't hard to understand.

But it had been 7 years since Magic's announcement of a disease that, at the time, had been publicly understood to be a death sentence. And yet, advancements had made it possible for him to still be alive.

In 2009, Michael Jackson died. In 2016, Magic Johnson is still alive. Indeed, the joke was that he was the only man who had HIV and gained weight.
Magic Johnson, now the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers,
at Dodger Stadium this past April 15. He is now 57 years old,
and says he feels great. I have no reason to doubt this.

Ryan White's battle was in the latter half of the 1980s, and showed that an innocent child could suffer from AIDS. David Kirby's photo was in 1990, and showed that AIDS victims were human beings, many with families who hadn't abandoned them or ostracized them. Magic Johnson's announcement was in 1991, and showed that a promiscuously heterosexual man could get AIDS -- from a woman. This was all either late in the 1980s or immediately after.

Eventually, people began to see that women were also suffering from AIDS -- and not secondhand, as the relatives, wives or girlfriends of men with the disease, but firsthand. In the 1995 film Boys On the Side, Mary-Louise Parker played an AIDS victim, saying that it wasn't fair that you could die as a result of making love.

And it was true: Most sexually-transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes and syphilis, while nasty, can be treated, even (in most cases) cured, and you won't die. Before the age of AZT and "triple cocktails," AIDS meant you were going to die, and it was going to be soon enough that you weren't going to be able to do all the things you wanted to do, but it was going to be long enough to be horribly painful and miserable. And it could happen if you "did it" just one time.

So don't preach to me about God and how "Jesus loves you" and then call AIDS "God's judgment." Nothing that any of these people did made them deserve it. Look at all the horrible people from 1980 onward who died from something other than AIDS. Osama bin Laden. Slobodan Milosevic. Saddam Hussein. The Ayatollah Khomeini. Timothy McVeigh.

Vladimir Putin, notoriously anti-gay dictator, is still alive. And so is Pat Robertson, at age 86.

Magic Johnson, you have given the world so much, through your athletic performances, through your businesses (he really is what the rich claim to be, a "job creator"), and your charity. You owe the world nothing more. But I do ask one more thing of you: Outlive Pat Robertson.

John Cardinal O'Connor, the Archbishop of New York from 1984 until his death in 2000, was a cultural conservative who preached against the gay lifestyle, and the condom distribution that has gone a long way toward preventing the further spread of HIV. But he practiced what he preached: He ordered the Archdiocese to open the 1st AIDS-specializing clinic in the State of New York. He viewed himself as a moral crusader, but he also saw ministering to the sick and the dying as part of that moral crusade. He saw all people as sinners, and also as human beings.

If more conservatives were like John O'Connor than like Pat Robertson, the world would be a better place.

That could have made the 1980s a better decade -- instead of the worst decade of the 20th Century.

You think the 1910s were worse, because of racism, World War I, and the Spanish Flu Epidemic? You think the 1930s were worse, because of racism, the Great Depression, and fascism? You think the 1940s were worse, because of racism, World War II and the Red Scare? If so, you have good points to make on those scores.

But by the 1980s, having already been through those decades, and the reforms of the 1960s and the 1970s, we should have known better.

But in the 1980s, many people still didn't know better. Worse, many others did, but chose to ignore what they had come to know, because selfishness. The Eighties, not the Seventies, were "The Me Decade."

Today, there are people who would like to go back to that decade. The decade of all the things I mentioned in this post. And the attempts to assassinate Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and the successful ones on Anwar Sadat and Olof Palme. And the 1981 baseball strike. And the Beirut barracks bombing. And the Ethiopian famine (which did, however, inspire Band Aid and Live Aid). And the hijackings of TWA Flight 847 and the MS Achille Lauro, and the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103. And the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. (To be fair, Reagan's speech about the tragedy that night was his finest hour.) And the Howard Beach murder. And the televangelism scandals. And the Hillsborough Disaster that killed 96 people in a stadium in Sheffield, and the Loma Prieta Earthquake that killed 63 people in the Bay Area (but, incredibly, no one in the stadium in San Francisco). And the Tienanmen Square Massacre.

You can take your good sports memories, your good entertainment memories, the rise of personal computers and portable phones, the perceived improvement in American feeling, and the end of the Cold War at the end of the decade, and add it all up, and put it all on the scale -- and it still doesn't outweigh the combination of all the evil things and all the things that, while not intentionally evil, were still crap.

I stand by what I said: The 1980s were the worst decade of the 20th Century.

In 2009, Time magazine called the 2000s "The Decade from Hell." So far, the 2010s aren't a whole lot better. But they still have time to redeem themselves, especially if Hillary beats Trump.

There is no redemption for the Egregious Eighties.

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